Predicting the Opening Day Starting Pitcher of All 30 MLB Teams
Spring training is a time of position battles for all 30 MLB teams, as they look to round out their 25-man roster for the upcoming season.
Since there are so many players and so few open jobs, managers are faced with one tough decision after another in the spring.
One decision that falls into the category of fun as opposed to daunting for managers though is naming an Opening Day starter.
So here are my predictions for who will be each team's Opening Day starter.
RHP Ian Kennedy - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t ESPN)
Once a top prospect in the Yankees organization, Kennedy joined the Diamondbacks prior to the 2010 season as part of a three-team trade.
After a decent first season in Arizona, he broke out in 2011 going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA to finish fourth in the NL Cy Young voting and help lead the Diamondbacks to the NL West title.
He took a step back last season, going 15-12 with a 4.02 ERA, but he threw a team-high 208.1 innings and filled the role of ace nonetheless.
RHP Tim Hudson
With 2012 Opening Day starter Tommy Hanson shipped off to the Angels, Hudson appears to be the clear front-runner to get the Opening Day nod.
Hudson is entering his ninth season in Atlanta, and he's coming off of a season in which he went 16-7 with a 3.62 ERA.
He served as the Opening Day starter for Atlanta in 2006 and 2008, and also earned three Opening Day nods during his time with Oakland. As the longest-tenured Braves player and still playing at a high level, he deserves the honor.
RHP Jason Hammel
Acquired from the Rockies last season along with reliever Matt Lindstrom for right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, Hammel was a pleasant surprise in going 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts.
He was among the bigger All-Star snubs after going 8-5 with a 3.47 ERA in the first half, and while injuries limited him to just three starts after the break, he should be back at 100 percent to kick off 2013.
Wei-Yin Chen is also a strong candidate after going 12-11 with a 4.02 ERA, and he was the only starter to make over 20 starts last season. My guess is he'll be slotted as the No. 2 starter behind Hammel.
Boston Red Sox
LHP Jon Lester
Like much of the Red Sox pitching staff last season, Lester struggled through a down year as he went 9-14 with a career-high 4.84 ERA.
However, in the four seasons prior to 2012, he went a combined 65-32 with a 3.33 ERA as he was one of the top left-hander starters in all of baseball.
Boston starters combined to go 48-72 with a 5.19 ERA, and while they signed Ryan Dempster and will have John Lackey back from injury, a bounce back season from Lester would go a long way towards improving this staff.
RHP Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija established himself as a solid reliever during the 2011 season, making 75 appearances with a 2.97 ERA and 8.9 K/9.
A starter in the minors, the team opted to transition him to the rotation to kick off 2012 and he responded with a breakout year as he went 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings.
The 28-year-old enters the season looking to take the next step and emerge as the ace of a rebuilding Cubs staff, and while Matt Garza may give him a run for the Opening Day nod, it's Samardzija who is the future of the Cubs' staff.
Chicago White Sox
LHP Chris Sale
After two seasons as a dominant setup man, the White Sox moved Sale to the rotation last season and he responded better than anyone could have imagined.
The 2010 first-round pick went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 192 innings as he quickly emerged as the ace of the staff and one of the game's most dominant young pitchers.
After re-signing Jake Peavy to a two-year, $29 million deal the team may opt to go with the veteran to kick off the season, but there is no question who the top arm on the White Sox roster is entering the season.
RHP Johnny Cueto
After four up-and-down seasons with the Reds to kick off his career, Cueto took a huge step forward last season as the Reds ace.
He went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting, as he was the clear ace of a solid Reds starting rotation.
The team could also opt to go with right-hander Mat Latos, who went 7-2 with a 2.84 ERA in the second half last season.
If nothing else, both will provide a dynamic one-two punch.
RHP Justin Masterson - Officially named Opening Day Starter (h/t ESPN)
The Indians thought they were getting a legitimate staff ace when they traded for Ubaldo Jimenez at the deadline back in 2010, but it's safe to say that hasn't worked out.
While Jimenez is still with the team, it is Masterson who will front the staff in 2013 after being named the Opening Day starter shortly after spring training began.
The 27-year-old went 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA last season, and was 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA during the 2011 season so the potential is certainly there for him to pitch like an ace.
LHP Jorge De La Rosa
The Rockies starting rotation combined to go just 29-68 with a 5.81 ERA last season, and while getting guys healthy should help improve things, the staff is without a true ace nonetheless.
If nothing else, the team is paying De La Rosa like an ace as he had his $11 million team option picked up at the start of the offseason, and he'll likely front the staff.
The 31-year-old left-hander made just 33 starts combined the past three seasons, but his last full season was a good one as he went 16-9 with a 4.38 ERA (108 ERA+) all the way back in 2009.
RHP Justin Verlander - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t The Ledger)
This one certainly falls into the no-brainer category, as Verlander is arguably the best pitcher in baseball today and has been the Tigers' Opening Day starter each season since 2008.
After taking home AL MVP and Cy Young honors in 2011, he was terrific once again last year in going 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA and 239 strikeouts in 238.1 innings.
Signed through the 2014 season, Verlander is in line to be baseball's first $200 million pitcher and the Tigers will no doubt do whatever it takes to keep him in Detroit.
RHP Lucas Harrell
Selected off waivers from the White Sox back in 2011, Harrell was one of the few bright spots for a 107-loss Astros team last season.
In 32 starts, the 27-year-old went 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 193.2 innings of work as the surprise ace of the Houston staff.
He'll have to beat out Bud Norris, who has been in the Astros rotation since 2009 and is thus one of their longest tenured players, but Harrell deserves the honor after the way he pitched last year.
Kansas City Royals
RHP James Shields - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t Barry Bloom of MLB.com)
With a solid core of homegrown position players in place, the Royals were in serious need of a rotational overhaul entering the season and overhaul they did.
Top prospect Wil Myers was shipped to Tampa Bay in a package of players for Shields and Wade Davis, while the team also dealt for Ervin Santana and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie.
There is no question Shields is the ace of the staff though, as he won 31 games with a 3.15 ERA over the past two seasons and has topped the 200-inning mark in six straight seasons.
Los Angeles Angels
RHP Jered Weaver - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t CBSSports)
Weaver continued his ascent to the game's elite last season, netting his third straight top five finish in AL Cy Young voting as he led the AL with 20 wins and a 1.018 WHIP.
The 30-year-old has enjoyed tremendous success thus far in his career, going 102-52 with a 3.24 ERA in seven seasons with the Angels.
C.J. Wilson is a solid No. 2 starter and the team added a trio of veteran arms to fill out their staff, but there is no question Weaver is the ace of the Angels.
Los Angeles Dodgers
LHP Clayton Kershaw - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t LA Times)
Despite shelling out a huge six-year, $147 million deal to sign Zack Greinke this offseason, there is little question as to who the Dodgers ace is.
Kershaw is not only the Dodgers best pitcher, but he's the best pitcher in the National League and is a serious contender for the title of top pitcher in baseball.
He's won back-to-back ERA titles and in five seasons in the majors he's gone 61-27 with a 2.79 ERA. The scariest part of it all is that at 24 years old he still has time to improve.
RHP Ricky Nolasco
After trading Anibal Sanchez at the deadline last season and then dealing Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to the Blue Jays this winter, the Marlins rotation is a shell of what it was at this time last year.
The lone incumbent veteran is Nolasco, who went 12-13 with a 4.48 ERA last season and is 76-64 with a 4.49 ERA in seven seasons with the Marlins.
A free agent at season's end, Nolasco is likely to be moved at the deadline if not sooner, but chances are he'll get the nod to start Opening Day.
RHP Yovani Gallardo
The Brewers were carried by the highest-scoring offense in the National League last season, and after losing Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf from last year's rotation they'll need to step up once again.
While those three are gone, the team does still have a front line veteran arm in Gallardo, who went 16-9 with a 3.66 ERA and 204 strikeouts in 204 innings pitched.
In four seasons since joining the rotation full-time, the 27-year-old has gone 60-38 with a 3.68 ERA and 9.4 K/9 and he appears ready to step into the role of ace.
RHP Vance Worley
The Twins likely would have gone with Scott Diamond as the team's Opening Day starter after he went 12-9 with a 3.54 ERA, but he is questionable for the start of the season after December elbow surgery.
Instead, the team will have to choose between new additions Vance Worley and Kevin Correia for the Opening Day nod.
Correia was the Pirates' Opening Day starter in 2011, and he signed a two-year, $10 million deal to help fill out what was a weak staff. However, Worley has the better stuff and higher upside at this point and deserves the No. 1 spot.
New York Mets
LHP Johan Santana - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t ESPN)
After missing all of the 2011 season, Santana returned to the Mets staff last season and went 6-9 with a 4.85 ERA, though he did make history in throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history.
Due $25.5 million this season with a $25 million option and $5.5 million buyout for 2014, Santana is wrapping up a six-year deal with the Mets.
The future is on its way in New York, as Matt Harvey turned in a solid debut last season and Zack Wheeler is in line to debut this season, but for now Santana will remain in the role of ace.
New York Yankees
LHP CC Sabathia
Sabathia has earned the Opening Day start for the Yankees each season since joining the team back in 2009, he's gone 74-29 with a 3.22 ERA in New York.
Despite missing time due to injury, he still went 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA last season while reaching the 200-inning mark for the sixth straight season.
Bringing back Hiroki Kuroda was a wise move, and both Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are solid arms, but Sabathia is the clear ace of the Yankees staff.
LHP Brett Anderson - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t CBSSports)
After going 11-11 with a 4.06 ERA as a 21-year-old rookie back in 2009, Anderson has struggled to stay on the field in making just 38 combined starts the past three seasons.
He opened the season on the DL last year, and made just six regular season starts, going 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA before throwing a gem in his lone postseason start (6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 6 Ks).
The A's have a terrific crop of young starters in Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin and Daniel Straily but the veteran Anderson will front the staff this season.
LHP Cole Hamels
After getting the Opening Day nod the past two years, Roy Halladay is unlikely to be the Phillies starter for Game 1 this time around, according to an article from MLB.com.
That leaves it as a toss-up between Cliff Lee and Hamels for the honor, and after signing a six-year, $144 million extension last year my guess is that they go with Hamels.
The 29-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career last year, going 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA and 216 strikeouts in 215.1 innings and it's his time to step forward as staff ace.
RHP A.J. Burnett - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t Danny Knobler of CBSSports)
The future is bright for the Pirates pitching staff, as top prospects Gerrit Cole and James Taillon are pushing ever closer to the big leagues, but for now the team will employ a veteran rotation.
The team took a chance on Burnett last offseason when they acquired the 36-year-old from the Yankees along with $20 million of the $33 million remaining on his contract for a pair of low-level minor leaguers.
He rewarded the Pirates faith in him with a terrific season, going 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA and emerging as the ace of the staff. He'll fill that role once again, and look to set himself up for one last solid payday next offseason.
San Diego Padres
RHP Edinson Volquez
After earning the Opening Day start for the Reds in 2011, Volquez was shipped to the Padres along with three other players for right-hander Mat Latos.
Though he was no Latos, Volquez was the Padres' best starter last season when he went 11-11 with a 4.14 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 182.2 innings pitched.
He'll again be the team's top starter this year, and set to hit free agency at season's end he'll be looking to elevate his game to set himself up with a big payday.
San Francisco Giants
RHP Matt Cain - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t MLB.com)
Even if Tim Lincecum had not suffered through the worst season of his career last year, Cain would have had a strong case for the title of staff ace after his 2012 performance.
The 28-year-old went 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 219.1 innings of work. He also turned in perhaps the most dominant performance of the season when he threw a 14-strikeout perfect game against the Astros in June.
The team gave him a five-year, $112.5 million extension to lead the staff moving forward, and he should make a run at his first NL Cy Young in the years ahead.
RHP Felix Hernandez
The Mariners locked up their ace with a seven-year, $175 million extension this offseason, as he is now in position to spend his entire career in a Mariners uniform.
Seattle is an improving team, and his terrific secondary numbers may finally start to result in a solid win-loss record in the next few years.
As it stands, he is 98-76 with a 3.22 ERA in his eight-year career and last season he went 13-9 with a 3.06 ERA and 223 strikeouts to finish fourth in AL Cy Young voting.
St. Louis Cardinals
RHP Adam Wainwright
With Kyle Lohse gone in free agency and Chris Carpenter sidelined indefinitely, the Cardinals will rely on Wainwright even more atop the rotation this coming season.
After missing all of the 2011 season with Tommy John surgery, Wainwright went 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA over 32 starts last season and looked better as the season went on after a slow start.
The 31-year-old is not only expected to carry the staff, but he's pitching for his next contract as he'll be a free agent at season's end.
I expect a huge season from Wainwright, and a return to his 2009/2010 form.
Tampa Bay Rays
LHP David Price
Though trading workhorse James Shields is a blow to the Rays staff, the team still has the reigning AL Cy Young winner in Price to front their staff.
The 27-year-old went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 211 innings of work, and he could put up those numbers on a yearly basis in the years ahead as he is just reaching his prime.
Under team control through the 2015 season, it is becoming more and more clear that the Rays won't be able to afford Price long-term.
This could be his final season taking the ball on Opening Day if the team opts to move him.
RHP Yu Darvish
The Rangers spent big to add Darvish last offseason, paying a $51.7 million posting fee before signing him to a six-year, $60 million deal.
He certainly had his skeptics after the collapse of Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he helped quiet those critics by going 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 191.1 innings to finish third in Rookie of the Year voting and ninth in Cy Young voting.
He'll have to beat out Matt Harrison, who went 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA as he made his first All-Star appearance.
There is really no wrong choice here, but I think Darvish will get the nod to kick off the season.
Toronto Blue Jays
RHP R.A. Dickey - Officially named Opening Day starter (h/t NBC Sports)
It's not very often that the reigning Cy Young winner is traded, as there have only been three previous times it has occurred.
Because of that, the Blue Jays jumped at the chance to land Dickey when the Mets began to shop him and they gave up a solid package of prospects highlighted by Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.
The team also acquired Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle this offseason, and they'll join Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero in the team's rotation.
Knuckle balling Dickey will front the staff as he looks to match his 2012 breakout performance.
RHP Stephen Strasburg
The Nationals rotation posted an NL-best 3.40 ERA last season, and they could be even better this coming season.
After going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 159.1 innings, the team shut down Strasburg in what was his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
Now he'll be off the leash and he should be in for a Cy Young caliber season, and he'll be joined by incumbent Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler as well as bounce back candidate Dan Haren.